Mallards v Architects @ Riding Mill May 24

The art of reportage is the art of being there, of seeing and following the events, getting to the soft white underbelly of what is really going on, seeking to accurately conveying the real story to a waiting public. To do any of these you have to be paying attention, not turning up 20 minutes after the game started and spending the next 15 unloading crates of beer (and other non-alcoholic beverages) and loading up an ice box. Yet come the end of the game, the enticement of a potential end of season trophy was not enough to prevent all involved to feign illiteracy, pending holidays, “writers” cramp and virginity (the reporting kind I think hope) amongst the too many excuses. So this week what you’re going to get is a (more) fictionalised (than usual) account of the proceedings.

Once upon a time, there was a man called Nala (not his real name), a legend amongst his peers, famed for his Calliopian writings and his all-round cricketing abilities (albeit too often in the face of his own team-mates). At the time the narrator of this stirring and entirely (in)accurate account arrived to chronicle the events that unfolded at Riding Mill in the week following the calends of May, it became obvious that the Mighty Mallards were living in troubled times …

A ritual known as the “tossing of the coin” had been undertaken and although the result has been lost in the mists of time, the result was that Mallards were set the task of posting an immense score that would be sufficient to intimidate the cunningly fearsome opposition known as the Architects (their real name too long to be worth reciting). However when your narrator arrived, the guardians of the gates of the Mallards batting attack were already occupying judiciary positions as umpires to the proceedings on the field of combat.

According to hearsay accounts, the opening of the Mallards innings had been brutal. Kent, without fear, having scored 15 runs off the first over had raised a defiant hope in the team that a score of 200+ was on the cards, only to see such hopes dashed as first Steel, attempting to emulate his opening colleagues’ success, futilely attempted to charge down his second ball faced only to be clean bowled for 1 by the deceptive Lawson. At this point our hero Nala strode to the crease to continue the carnage, only for the gravity of the unfolding events to hammer home with the dismissal of “Stoneface” Kent for 15 again falling prey to Lawson’s immaculate line and length. From 15-0 at the end of the first over to just 23-2 at the end of the 4th, a more realistic score was needed and Nala was the man to deliver.

Aided and abetted by the Thalian Wood, Nala set about repairing the foundations of what could still be a monumental innings. Faced with the gorgons that were Lawson and Harkin, Nala heroically blocked and nurdled stealing what runs he could thanks to the split second calling of Wood. For 11 overs our redoubtable pair battled against the odds, as Architects summoned further gorgons in the shape of Harkin and Brigham. The quick singles were starting to take their toll on Nala. A rare shot that penetrated past the iron ring of fielders and upslope to the main road end of the ground was accompanied by a plaintive cry of “oh bugger” as he realised that he would have to run three in one go.

At the end of the 14th over the score had moved to an attritional 61 for 2, only for Nala to see his trusty squire Wood felled, clean bowled by Thornton for 14 while trying to valiantly accelerate the scoring rate and thus exposing the Mallards leader to face the wrath of the Architects bowling attack. Striding to the crease wearing his pork pie Stetson (this is not a purely Greek tragedy!) our leader, Butcher, wasted no time in taking the fight to the foe with two lusty fours only to perish with an ill-timed swipe at another straight one from Thornton for just 9.

Nala however persisted. The opposition, sensing weariness, elected to go for the sadistic slow kill sparing Nala from a quick and merciful release by making him run further rapid singles (and twos). However the ploy backfired when Nala having hit the fifth and final four of the innings reached the blessed release of 30 not out and he was allowed to return to the pavilion, albeit on his knees, with honours. The completion of the innings was left to the youthful coupling of Gibbons and Moran who withstood the final bowling assault to finish on 9 and 2 not out respectively and the Mallards total a century or so short of what had been promised at the start at 103.

For any chronicler of proceedings, the accurate summarisation of activities is helped by the availability of clear and accurate documentation to support the preparation of the accounts. Sadly this is not always the case …

With Nala instructed to patrol the cover/ mid-wicket boundary, the primate McGuinness was set the task of vanquishing the foe with the ball. His Harmison-like first ball ballooned high and was duly dispatched for a no-ball four, only for his second and first legitimate ball to clean bowl the very dangerous Clinton for 4. Scholars, I’m sure, will long debate whether this counts as a diamond duck. Meanwhile Watson, looking mean and hostile with his black eye, set to defending the other end of the wicket of play. A tidy first over saw reward in his second with a plumb back foot lbw to remove the equally dangerous Matterson for 7.

McGuinness, struggling for line and length, was replaced by Wisbach (soon to be betrothed and to possibly retire from the field of combat forever? – he thinks otherwise but we shall see … organising a wedding that coincides with a test match in the vicinity does not for good portents make) who was rewarded by the wicket of Bindine caught superbly by Moran at point for 15, leaving the Architectural Gorgons at a perilous 48 for 3 after 8 overs. However Moran’s exploits in the field failed to eclipse those of Nala, who had become a strange ball-attractor (magnet is not quite the word here) for the innings. All too often balls travelling in not quite Nala’s direction meant our hero had to chase or throw himself towards to the line of the ball with a “bloody hell”, “oh god, not again”, or “why me?”.

However it was all to be for naught. Brigham and Thornton steadied the rocking Architects ship and despite the wiles of Watson (4 overs 1 for 12), Haylock (3 overs 0 for 17), Wisbach (4 overs 1 for 23) and Gibbons (2 overs 0 for 16) the gorgons swiftly and inexorably overcame stoic Mallards defences to close down on the total needed to secure victory. In desperation the captain turned to Wood to bamboozle them with whatever you call what he bowls, ensuring that the game extended to the 17th over where only 2 runs were required. Turning once again to McGuinness in the hope that he could deliver a double hat-trick maiden in failing light, Captain Butcher’s dreams of a first victory under his tenure were thwarted with a single followed by a wide.

It was a valiant defeat, against an opposition who played to the full spirit of friendly engagement. Nala, heroic in defeat enjoyed a well-deserved crafted lager by Samuel Adams in the lighted clubhouse before disappearing into the night clutching a celebratory Badger (ale that is) to savour when he returned to his home. For the rest it was a case of drink, eat pork pies and other savouries and enjoy the final Pyrrhic victory of creating a post-match schism within the ranks of the opposition caused between those who were happy to stay and share in the spirit of the game and those who wanted to immediately bugger off to the Wellington to castigate each other for the job done. So Mallards may have narrowly and valiantly lost in the field of cricketing combat, but definitely won in the cause of friendly cricket.